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- The Treasure of the Incas - 4/63 -
"I tell you frankly that I broached the subject chiefly because I thought it was much better for you to be doing something than kicking your heels about London, and mooning over this affair with Miss Fortescue. There is nothing worse for a young man than living in London with just enough to keep him comfortably without the necessity of working. Therefore I thought you would be far better travelling and hunting for treasure in Peru, than staying here. Even if you fail, as I feel is almost certain, in the object for which you go out, you will have plenty to occupy your thoughts, and not be dwelling continually upon an attachment which in all probability will not turn out satisfactorily. I do not suppose that you are likely to forget Miss Fortescue, but by the time you return you will have accustomed yourself to the thought that it is useless to cry for the moon, and that, after all, life may be very endurable even if she does not share it. Therefore I propounded this Peruvian adventure, feeling sure that, whatever came of it, it would be a benefit to you."
"No doubt it will, sir. I see myself the chance of success is small indeed, but there is none at all in any other way. It is just the sort of thing I should like, and I quite feel myself that it would be good for me to have plenty to think about; and now that you have consented to Bertie's going with me, I feel more eager than before to undertake the expedition. The place is in rather a disturbed state, isn't it?"
"If you are going to wait until Peru ceases to be in a disturbed state, Harry, you may wait another hundred years. The Spanish rule was bad, but Peru was then a pleasant place to live in compared with what it is now. It is a sort of cock-pit, where a succession of ambitious rascals struggle for the spoils, and the moment one gets the better of his rivals fresh intrigues are set on foot, and fresh rebellions break out. There are good Peruvians--men who have estates and live upon them, and who are good masters. But as to the politicians, there is no principle whatever at stake. It is simply a question of who shall have the handling of the national revenue, and divide it and the innumerable posts among his adherents. But these struggles will not affect you largely. In one respect they will even be an advantage. Bent upon their own factious aims, the combatants have no time to concern themselves with the doings of an English traveller, whose object out there is ostensibly to botanize and shoot. Were one of them to obtain the undisputed control of affairs he might meddle in all sorts of ways; but, as it is, after you have once got pretty well beyond the area of their operations, you can regard their doings with indifference, knowing that the longer they go on fighting the fewer scoundrels there will be in the land.
"But even were they to think that it was mining, and not science or sport that took you out there, they would scarcely interfere with you. It is admitted by all the factions that Peru needs capital for her development, and at present that can best be got from this country. The discovery of a fresh mine means employment to a large number of people, and the increase of the revenues by a royalty or taxation. English explorers who have gone out have never had any reason to complain of interference on the part of the authorities. You will find the average better class of Peruvians a charming people, and extremely hospitable. The ladies are pretty enough to turn the head of anyone whose affections are not already engaged. The men are kindly and courteous in the extreme. However, you would have little to do with these.
"In the mountains you would largely depend upon your rifle for food, and on what you could get in the scattered native villages. The Indians have no love for the Peruvians. They find their condition no better off under them than it was under the Spaniards. Once they find out that you are English they will do all in their power for you. It is to Cochrane and the English officers with him that they owe the overthrow and expulsion of their Spanish tyrants, and they are vastly more grateful than either the Chilians or Peruvians have shown themselves to be."
On returning to their lodgings Harry met his brother, who had been into the city.
"Old Prosser was very civil," said Bertie. "He said that as their ships were chiefly in the South American trade it would be a great advantage for me to learn to speak Spanish well. They had not yet thought anything about whether they should order another ship to replace the _Stella_; at any rate, at present they had no vacancy, and would gladly give me permission to travel in South America, and would find me a berth to finish my apprenticeship when I returned. More than that, they said that as I had always been so favourably reported upon they would put me on as a supernumerary in the _Para_, which will sail in a fortnight for Callao. I should not draw pay, but I should be in their service, and the time would count, which would be a great pull, and I should get my passage for nothing."
"That is capital. Of course I will take a passage in her too."
"And what does Mr. Barnett say?"
"Rather to my surprise, Bertie, he did not disapprove of the plan at all. He thought it would be a good thing for me to have you with me in case of illness or anything of that sort. Then no doubt he thought to some extent it would keep you out of mischief."
"I don't believe he thought anything of the sort. Did he say so?"
"Well, no, he didn't; but I have no doubt he felt it in some way a sort of relief."
"That is all very fine. I know, when I have been down to his place in the country between voyages, I have always been as well behaved as if I had been a model mid."
"Well, I have heard some tales of your doings, Bertie, that didn't seem quite in accord with the character you give yourself."
"Oh, of course I had a few larks! You cannot expect a fellow who has been away from England for a year to walk about as soberly as if he were a Methodist parson!"
"No, I should not expect that, Bertie. But, on the other hand, I should hardly have expected that he would, for example, risk breaking his neck by climbing up to the top of the steeple and fastening a straw-hat on the head of the weathercock."
"It gave it a very ornamental appearance; and that weathercock was never before watched so regularly by the people of the village as it was from that time till the hat was blown away in a gale."
"That I can quite believe. Still, Mr. Barnett told me that the rector lodged a complaint about it."
"He might complain as much as he liked; there is no law in the land, as far as I know, that makes the fixing of a straw-hat upon a weathercock a penal offence. It did no end of good in the village, gave them something to talk about, and woke them up wonderfully."
"And there were other things too, I think," his brother went on.
"Oh, well, you need not go into them now! they are an old story. Besides, I fancy I have heard of various tricks played by Mr. Midshipman Harry Prendergast, and, as I heard them from your lips, I cannot doubt but that they were strictly veracious. Well, this is jolly now. When are we going to begin to get our outfit?"
"We will lose no time about that. But really there is not much to get--a couple of good rifles and two brace of pistols, with a good store of ammunition, those clothes you have just bought, and two or three suits of duck for the voyage. I shan't get any special kit until we arrive there, and can take the advice of people at Lima whether we had better travel in European clothes or in those worn by the Peruvians. Of course saddles and bridles and all that sort of thing we can buy there, and we shall want a small tent to use when we get into out-of-the-way places. I shall take three hundred pounds in gold. I have no doubt we can exchange it into silver profitably; besides, it is much more handy for carrying about. I shall go down this afternoon and see Prosser and secure a berth."
"I think you will have to arrange that with the captain. Very few of our ships have accommodation for passengers, but the captains are allowed to take one or two if they like."
"All right! At any rate I must go to the office first. They can refer me to the skipper if they like; that would be better than my going to him direct."
Harry Prendergast went down to Leadenhall Street and saw the managing owner of the _Para_. As Bertie had anticipated, Mr. Prosser, after hearing Harry's statement that he wished to take a passage to Callao in the vessel advertised to start in a week's time, and that he was much obliged to them for giving Bertie a berth as supernumerary midshipman, said:
"We shall certainly have pleasure in putting your brother's name on the ship's books. He has already explained to me his desire to go out with you; we have had every reason to be satisfied with him since he entered our service, and he had better draw pay as usual, as his service during the voyage will then count towards his time. As for yourself, we do not book passengers, it is more bother than it is worth; but we have no objection to our masters taking one or two. The addition of a mouth or so practically makes very little difference in the amount of ships' stores consumed. The masters pay us a small sum a head and make their own terms with the passengers they take. In that way we are saved all complaints as to food and other matters. Of course a passenger would put on board for himself a stock of such wines, spirits, and little luxuries as he may choose.
"You will find Captain Peters down at the docks. The last cargo has been discharged, and they are giving an overhaul to the rigging and making a few repairs; he is not a man to leave his ship if he can help it while work is going on there."
Harry at once went down.
"Well, sir," the captain said, when he had told him that he wished to take a passage to Callao, and that the owners had referred him to him, "I had fully made up my mind that I would not take passengers again. On my last voyage they were always grumbling at the food, expecting to be treated as if they were in a first-class hotel."
"I am not likely to grumble, Captain; I have been knocking about the King's service since I was fourteen."
"Oh, you are a royal navy man, are you, sir?"
"I am; I am a lieutenant."
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